In memoriam : Mitsubishi Colt 1400 Turbo

Keith Adams

The continuing series of features about extinct cars in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.

9: Colt 1400 Turbo – died out in 2003

Colt 1400 Turbo
Colt 1400 Turbo

Back in the late-1970s, the UK perception of Japanese cars was one of drudging trans-Atlantic conservatism. The mass-market cars being sold by Datsun and Toyota, for instance were utterly reliable, well equipped, slightly ornately styled and usually technically behind the European pace-setters. So where we had the FWD fluid-suspended Austin Allegro, or beautifully engineered and Italianately styled VW Golf, the Japanese fought back with the Toyota Corolla and Datsun Sunny. But the problem with general perception (as well as what the car magazines used to say), it wasn’t a true reflection of the reality of the situation.

For one – even back then, Japan built some of the most technically advanced family cars around. It’s just that they tended to be overshadowed by the orthodox ones. And where Datsun and Toyota dominated, taking the majority of their allocated market share in the UK (Japanese importers were limited to 12.5% of the new car arena), Honda, Subaru and Mitsubishi (or Colt as it was known in the UK back then) were left to pick up the crumbs. And that’s a shame as Honda’s Civic was as advanced as any supermini then available; Subaru’s range was flat-four powered and all-wheel drive to stand alone in the mid-market; and Mitsubishi’s Colt 1400 range was one of the most interesting cars available in the Golf class…

…and on the other side of the fence, us Europeans offered the truly dull Escort Mk2 and Vauxhall Viva. So it really was six of one, and half a dozen of the other.

Mitsubishi's 'Power Shifter'. Note the transfer lever on the left.
Mitsubishi's 'Power Shifter'. Note the transfer lever on the left.

The Colt 1400 (as the A150-generation Mitsubishi Colt or Mirage) was known in the UK went on sale in March 1979. Given its market penetration was always going to be capped, Mitsubishi did a good job of marketing the car offering it with generous equipment at a reasonable price.

The three- and five-door hatchback was agreeably styled, avoiding European ‘origami’ and Japanese ‘chintz’ to end up looking almost timeless. Initially only offered in GLX form with a free-spinning 1.4-litre ohc engine, the 70bhp hatchback made a number of friends within the media.

One memorable feature was its dual-range gearbox. Alongside the conventional four-speed shifter was a second lever offering ‘Power’ or ‘Economy’ – in effect a transfer lever offering high and now ratios, which you could swap between depending on your mood. The general consensus within the media was that it was a gimmick, and of absolutely no advantage over a standard five-speed gearbox. But never underestimate the power of marketing an ‘eight-speed’ gearbox.

In 1982, a turbocharged version was unleashed on the unsuspecting world. This was Colt’s entrant in the burgeoning GTI market, and like many of its contemporaries, such as the MG Metro and Renault 5, relied on forced induction to up the power. Engine capacity remained at 1410cc, but power was boosted to a more useful 105bhp, making it one of the faster entrants in the junior GTI set.

However, in a crowded market, dominated by the Ford Escort and Fiesta XR2/XR3, the MG Metros and Volkswagen Golf GTI, the perky little Mitsubishi didn’t really get a look in. The Colt Turbo failed to shine, and despite excellent build quality and a fair slice of showroom appeal, it sunk without a trace.

And since the 1400 Turbo, Mitsubishi’s showing on the performance car scene has been somewhat patchy. Its contemporary, the Lancer 2000 Turbo was also a bit of a commercial dud, but did come back in later years to become something of a cult in the form of the Lancer Evo. The Starion (named after the Star of Orion, okay?) fared better and was a strong player in the big coupé market – and is still seen as something of a cult car, even today.

The Colt Turbo’s replacements, however, failed to gain the same recognition. Who remembers the 1990s Colt GTI today? Or indeed the current car (which is actually a lot of fun to drive)?

And that’s probably why the short-lived 1982-1984 car doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. And that it’s as long ago as 2003 that the final 1400 Turbo shuffled off this mortal coil to the great scrapyard in the sky.

Unless of course, cars have been subsequently been brought in on the back of the J-Tin movement in recent years… We found out after the first In Memoriam piece on the Alfa Romeo ARNA that there is indeed at least one example left on the UK roads, as it won a concours award at the 2011 AROC national rally!

Colt 1400 Turbo was a bit-player in the UK hot-hatch market
Colt 1400 Turbo was a bit-player in the UK hot-hatch market
Keith Adams


  1. I had the fortune, or should that be misfortune to own one of these, was an 81 X plate one in slightly faded red, and fitted with a body kit and big rear spoiler made of rubber, which the monkeys at Longleat had taken a fancy too, so had a couple of mouth sized chunks missing out of it. It did look the part, along with its pepperpot style alloys, and sporty black and red seats. The twin gearlevers were a gimmick though, the P and E settings having little difference, E in 4th just dropped the revs slightly while cruising, and offered slightly longer gearing, P giving a fairly nice short ratio box, which was great for zipping round town. Alas mine suffered with not being fitted with the usual standard Japanese fitment of reliability, it was one of the most unreliable cars I’ve ever owned, you’d fix something only for something else to break, pity really, and I suppose that’s why I can still count on one hand the amount of Japanese cars I’ve owned. Mine met it’s end in the mid 90s after a friend borrowed it and ran it with no oil in it killing the big ends, that was the final straw and off it went.
    So, yes it was good, but it was no XR2, or indeed MG Metro, which is the car I should have bought instead…

  2. I remember the first Mitsubishi cars in the UK were sold as COLT’s (Lancer, Sigma, Sapporo, Celeste) and the baby model was the “Mirage” as described here. The Colt 1400 Turbo seemed to have a similar spec and side profile to the 1983/84 Nissan Cherry 1.5Turbo ZX which was also 3-door only. I wonder if there are any Cherry Turbo’s still running?

  3. I love those side stripes!

    Does anyone else remember the good old days when the sports model was clearly a sports model, with stripes, alloys, spoilers etc, none of which ever appeared on the horrid family boggo-basic windy-window nonsense? Back in those days, even non car people could tell which were the sporty variants. Nowadays, even car enthusiasts can struggle to tell a hot (or warm) car from a special edition with alloys and front fogs. I blame the Golf GTi…

    (I’ve probably banged on about this before, but it is my pet hate so I make no apologies! Did I tell you about the neighbour’s Corsa 1.0 special edition with alloys, colour coded spoilers etc? It’s just plain wrong. If you are so miserly as to buy something with a 1.0 engine, then your should have to announce the fact to the world with windy windows, black bumpers, cheap wheeltrims etc. Just like we all had to do, then our first proper car was all the more exciting.)

  4. One of those provided the bonnet intake on my yellow Mk 1 Fiesta that convinced all the local boy racers that instead of a lowly 1.1 pushrod, it had an RS Turbo engine.

    I only bought it from the scrapped car because it was a similar shade of yellow…

  5. I might be wrong but I seem to remember the reason it had the H/L Lever was that the engine turned the wrong way and so needed a set of idler gears so that it did not end up with 4 reverse and one forward gear.Thus a virtue was made of a necessity.

  6. @Richard Kilpatrick

    I remember the local boy racers being scared by my GTi lookalike Miami Blue Pug 205 back in the day, until they heard me start it up and realised that it was a diesel!

    My mate had a couple rotting mark 1 Fiestas, first an S reg 950 in yellow with holes in the floor (seriously, it scared me to death when I first noticed them) then a V reg Sandpiper 1.1 with two-tone brown and cream – just the thing for an 18 year old in 1993. It was surprisingly fast (or so it seemed), especially downhill towards Sheffield before the days of speed cameras!

    After several years of rotting but reliable £50 Fords, he bought a five year old Alfa 33 on the never-never, only for the engine to blow up within 6 months…

    • Had a white colt mirage turbo back in eighties great fun car once I got the turbo working and in 2nd gear in economy position could accelerate all the way up to 60 mph. Now have modern colt czt but doesn’t have the character

  7. @Wingroad

    If that’s correct, then that is surely a bodge worthy of Austin Rover back then! I’m surprised they didn’t copy it and put it on the Austin Ambassador or something.

    Anyone else noticed that the Colt looks a bit like a squared off Metro?

  8. I remember the radio advert voiced by Tracy Ullman, going on about the onwrs of Mitsubishi Colt Turbo’s upsetting her boyfriend in his feeble steed…

  9. Looked quited nice, although the stripes were well OTT. Quite long and space-inefficient compared to a Metro. Did the P/E thing work on reverse I wonder?

  10. Think if I was your neighbour Steve Baily I’d be off down the garden centre this weekend buying up stocks of Leylandii.

  11. Interesting read. I would guess that if it was done as a requirement for idler gears the high low range would work in reverse, I know it does for some of the older tractors with a intermediary idler gear and I seem to remember reading it works for some of the PowerWagons too.
    If you want terrifying though I would suggest you hop over to america where you could get your mits on a Carroll Shelby tuned 2.2 litre Talbot Horizon! If you are feeling particularly suicidal there is always the option of the 2.2i Turbo III engine which would make 172hp and I understand is a fairly simple exchange, if you can find one, the finding being the hard part since they were only an option on a couple of cars for a couple of years or so in the 80’s.
    There was a variable vane Turbo IV but that was finicky and Im not sure if it was widely available.

  12. I stand corrected, the Turbo II 2.2 put out 174hp, the Turbo III was good for 224hp stock and is fairly tunable. The Turbo IV was a variable vane that tended to chew its vanes & jam due to carbonisation issues. Not bad for an engine that in NA spec put out a wheezy 80hp.

  13. Seeing as Jemma’s suggesting OTT power units for hatchbacks, anyone know why MG Rover never dropped the T-series into the 200/25? No more melting cheese head gaskets, and the turbo T….hehe

    P.S. The reason there were no more Misti Colt/Mirage turbo’s after 2003 is ‘cos they rusted like a 70’s Alfa. All the structural strength of a soggy mini 😉

  14. I was a proud owner of this car….a truly wonderful drive….nippy, spacious n also economical….. It was one of a kind…. I really miss driving it…..

  15. Gana, I’m with you. I had an ’84 model in a lovely deep red. The only issues I ever had were down to inexperience – blowing the turbo. The car was a hoot, it wasn’t slow, it turned heads (several times on the north circular from memory), and the econ box was just that compared to the performance box. I regularly took on xr2 & 3’s and came away smiling.
    It was a joy to drive, and unlike previous cars, I never felt the need to ‘upgrade’ or enhance it, as it looked ‘the dogs’ to begin with.
    I was fortunate that I met my wife when I had it, and we had many good years, and so many good memories, and when the family arrived, we needed to upgrade (which is when the gearbox played up). I wouldn’t have a bad thing said – but I had a great one.

  16. Hy there I had the pleasure of owning a few of these Colt 1.2s and 1.4s glxs…I loved all of them for their reliability and great to drive…
    Many a night I worked late into the night doing bits and pieces on them and that is sadly something that kids don’t do nowadays…I would have one in a heart beat once again…
    A guy once drove one of these about 5 miles whilst in 2nd gear which was red lining and his friends were like saying to him stop stop you fool you’ll kill the engine but when they stopped the engine was as sweet as a nut..

  17. I recently bought one of these Colt turbo. It is an english car, but ended here in Spain somehow and got abandoned for lots of years… I was looking for some info and ended here, reading that the car is now extinct in the country it was sold… So I feel quite sad and surprised. At least now we know there’s still one of them alive, despiste it’s not in the UK!

  18. Worked in sales for Mitsubishi Colt dealer in 82-83.
    Got to drive the whole range of Colt turbo range. All but the 1400 sharing the same 2.0 litre engine. The Lancer was the most fun, but me and the boss had to fight who took it home. My company ride was a 1400 Turbo in bright red. VRB727Y. Used to cruise around looking for Golf GTis to have a go at, and remember having a fun tussle with a Saab Turbo on the old A23 out of Brighton. Happy days.
    Having also sold Mazda and Daihatsu vehicles, I regarded the Mitsubishi motors as the best built of the lot.

  19. Mitsubishi were always the most interesting Japanese car maker of the time, with cars like the Colt, Sapporo and Starion providing an interesting alternative to European hot hatches and coupes, and their cars were Mercedes like in their build quality. Also add in the excellent reliability and long list of standard equipment( air conditioning was fitted to top of the range cars when this was rare on European cars) and you can see why Mitsubishi developed a loyal following.
    Another thing, I had a Proton 20 years ago, which was a Malaysian version of a Mitsubishi Lancer, and in two years of ownership, it never developed a single fault or a rattle, and taxi drivers claimed their MPIs and Personas were capable of 200,000 miles.

  20. I remember the parents of a girl I knew at school had an X reg Lancer or Gallant, either of which was quite a rare car in the 1980s.

    She lived next to door to a friend of mine so I used to see it quite often.

    Mitsubishi had a quite a complicated range of mid to large cars in the 1980s.

    The Sigma also formed the bases of the Australian Lonsdale, imported to get around quotas on Japanese built cars.

    I assume they were sold through Mitsubishi dealers.


  21. @richardpd, Mistubishi were seen as more upmarket and spohisticated than Nissan Datsun and Toyota, and some of their cars were quite expensive. Yet the driving experience was light years ahead of something like a Nissan Bluebird, the cars looked futuristic and came loaded with equipment, so were worth the money. Then there was the Mercedes like build quality and reliability to consider.

  22. Some neighbours in our street had Colt Sigmas (1.6 & 2.0) one had a Sapporo and another a Lancer – all nice looking cars in their time that had a rarity value in the early 80’s, whereas there were more Toyotas & Datsuns. Agree they appeared to have good build quality

  23. In more recent years, until they left the British market, Mitsubishi became more known for their pick up trucks and SUVs. Rather a bruiser compared to the Range Rover, the Shogun was well loved by farmers and horse owners for its enormous torque, unpretentious interior( no nice white leather to get scuffed) and ability to do huge mileages without any faults. Ditto the L200 pick up, another tough as nails working vehicle that was never going to be a fashion statement or go soft.

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